This week, I thought it might be useful if I respond to a few frequently asked questions from the National People’s Power, regarding the ongoing political crisis.
1. Will you support the No Confidence Motions (NCMs) submitted by the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB)?
The SJB, at the time of writing this article, has submitted two NCMs to the Speaker. One against the Prime Minister and the Government and the other against the President. While the Speaker has agreed to place the NCM against the Government in the Order Paper, he has sought advice from the Attorney General regarding the NCM against the President. As far as the NPP is concerned, there is no doubt that both must be taken up in Parliament.
If the NCM against the PM and the Government is passed, they must resign and the President must appoint a new PM who in his view has the confidence of Parliament. If the no-confidence motion against the President passes, he can still argue that it does not have any impact on his position. Arguably, when Parliament passes a no-confidence motion against the President, whatever the constitutional arguments, morally and ethically he has no right to continue in office.
However, the issue is not whether the NPP will support these motions or not – we have only three votes. It is by no means certain if the so-called ‘independent group’ (SLFP breakaways from the SLPP and other partners of the SLPP coalition) that till recently was part of the Government, will support these two motions. They have consistently taken the position that they want a new PM and Cabinet, but at no point have they asked for the President’s resignation.
Many of the members of the ‘Independent Group’ have been disgruntled with the Government for the past several months because they did not have influence and power within the Government, even though some of them were members of the Cabinet. They were consistently side-lined in the decision-making process and systematically ignored by the President. It is clear that at least some in the Independent Group are now using the public protests to negotiate a better deal for themselves with the Government. The idea of the National Consensus Government that has been floated is an effort to form a Government with a bigger share of the spoils for the Independent Group. Therefore, it is unlikely that they will support any motions/resolutions that will challenge the position of the Government. Indeed, the vote on the Deputy Speaker made this very clear.
2. Will the NPP become part of the Interim Government/National Consensus Government?
The NPP has categorically stated that it will not be part of any interim or other arrangement which is led by any member of the Rajapaksa family. That is, the public protests are calling for the resignation of the President and Prime Minister and the NPP stands by those demands and will not settle for anything less. The NPP is also of the view that the President has to take responsibility for the debacle described by Finance Minister Ali Sabry this week in Parliament. The logical next step after that speech should have been for both the Government and the President to resign!
In the event that the President and Prime Minister resign or are forced to resign, the NPP will be open to discuss an interim arrangement that has a very specific and limited agenda and time frame. The NPP is of the view that an interim government should be for a very short duration and not be seen as a ‘solution’ to the current crisis. This Government has lost its mandate and trust of the people and should not be allowed to continue by entering into deals in Parliament. Rather, the people must be allowed to exercise their franchise and choose a new Government and leaders.
3. Why is the NPP calling for elections at this time? Can the country afford an election?
The NPP is of the view that this parliament has lost public trust. The composition of the current parliament (with a two-thirds majority for the ruling party) is no longer accepted by the public. Constitutionally, they may be in power – but ethically and morally, they have no right to be in power. This is an unprecedented political crisis and calls for radical action. Unless this political crisis is resolved, the economic crisis (which is closely bound to the political crisis) cannot be dealt with. The public are not in a mood to accept any directives or decisions of the current Government. It is doubtful that the international community, including multilateral organisations and investors, would be comfortable dealing with a Government that has lost public trust. No effort to form a Government with the current members of Parliament will obtain the legitimacy to govern. Furthermore, this Government has demonstrated its incompetence in dealing with this crisis and in fact is responsible for the current situation. Therefore, a government that has the mandate of the people must be elected as soon as possible. In other words, the public must be given the opportunity to exercise their sovereign right to elect a government of their choice.
The economic consequences of not having a stable Government and continuing economic and political unrest will be worse than the cost of an election. It is estimated that an election will cost approximately Rs 13 billion. The Government allocated far more for various projects and schemes, in the 2022 Budget, that are now either not implemented or partially implemented such as ‘development’ projects for every Grama Sevaka division. These projects, even when implemented, have been a colossal waste of money. It is far more important (and far less costly) to conduct an election that may offer a way out of the current political deadlock.
4. What will happen till an election is called?
An interim government may have to be put in place till a new election is called. However, this interim government must have a specific mandate and a limited time frame. Chief among this mandate must be to put in place some relief mechanisms to address the severe economic stresses experienced by the public: for instance, a more efficient and effective food, medicine and fuel distribution system. The current Government is proposing cash transfers for vulnerable groups which have proven to be ineffective and likely to be abused.
5. Will the NPP support the 21st Amendment or a motion to abolish the Executive Presidency?
The NPP and all its constituent members/ parties/ organisations have consistently stood for the abolition of the Executive Presidential system. This position has not changed and in fact is included in the NPP manifesto for the proposed new Constitution. The NPP will support any measures to weaken/abolish the Executive Presidency. However, that should not be used to extend the term of this Government. That is, long drawn out negotiations over constitutional amendments should not be used as an excuse for remaining in power. This Government has announced its intention of formulating a new Constitution. A government that has lost public trust should not be trying to enact new Constitutions.
In summary, the NPP’s position is as follows:
1. The President, Prime Minister and government must resign.
2. The people must be given an opportunity as fast as possible to exercise their franchise and choose a new government.
3. An interim government must be put in place with a specific mandate and time frame till the people exercise their franchise.
4. The NPP will support any measures within Parliament that is aligned with the above measures.
5. The NPP will strengthen and support all protests that are aligned with the above objectives. The current leadership and composition is out of step with the people of this country and the people’s demands must be met in order for the country to move forward.
By Harini Amarasuriya